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This Week in Palestine, a service of the International Middle East Media Center, www.imemc.org, for October 27th through November 2nd, 2006.
Israeli troops kill 34 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip as negotiations over a prisoner exchange drag on with no apparent progress, meanwhile, Palestinian resistance fighters continue to fire home-made Qassam shells at Sderot. Efforts on forming a Palestinian national unity government are still ongoing. These stories and more, coming up. Stay tuned.
Weekly Peaceful actions in the West Bank
Let's begin our weekly report with this week’s peaceful actions against the annexation Wall and other stories in the West Bank
Friday afternoon's weekly peaceful protest at Bil'in ended once again with one demonstrator in hospital after being shot by the Israeli military. A member of a French solidarity group known as Jose was shot in the wrist after the demonstration had dispersed. Eyewitnesses report that Jose was standing over 50 meters away from a group of stone-throwing youth, when he was directly hit with live ammunition. He is currently receiving treatment at Shiekh Zaid hospital in Ramallah.
Bil'in villagers had earlier been joined by international and Israeli supporters as they marched to the illegal apartheid wall, which has now annexed over 50% of lands owned by the village. At this time of the olive harvest, farmers from the village, accompanied by a throng of colorful protestors, marched to the gate in the fence and demanded to be allowed to access their olive groves. Despite being prevented from reaching their fields, and the soldier's heavy use of tear gas, the protest passed peacefully until soldiers attacked the group, shooting sound grenades, rubber bullets and live ammunition while facing resistance from the youths of the village. Two children, Amjad and Amer, were hit in the shoulder by rubber bullets.
At around 3:00pm this afternoon, a non-violent demonstration took place at the tunnel checkpoint on route 60. In order to highlight the desperate plight of Palestinian farmers, whose olive groves are rapidly being rendered inaccessible by the advancing annexation wall, around sixty Palestinian, International and Israeli activists marched carrying olive tree branches, baskets of olives and gallons of olive oil from Al Khader to the checkpoint and dumped what they carried on the road, halting traffic for over an hour.
Israeli security forces reacted aggressively towards the protesters, wielding batons, beating up participants and behaving violently while arresting five demonstrators. One Palestinian man was moderately injured as Police-men attempted to force him into a jeep, however medics managed to put him into the ambulance and took him to the hospital.
Lora, an American activist, describes the demonstration
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And on the soldiers’ brutality, Lora added,
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At least five, one Palestinian and four Israelis were arrested in the protest and were taken to unknown location.
Attacks on the Gaza Strip
Death toll since June reaches 344 as Israel launches deadliest attack since beginning "Operation: Summer Rain"
Israeli troops have killed 34 Palestinians in the town of Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza, during a two-day attack, dubbed "Operation: Autumn Clouds.” At least 100 people have been injured, 15 critically, making it the most deadly attack on Gaza since the Israeli military began its operation “Summer Rain” in late June. Israeli military officials called the attack an act of self-defense, citing the homemade shells launched by Palestinian militias into Israeli territories. Both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh have called the offensive in Beit Hanoun "a massacre".
In the meantime, Palestinian resistance fighters continued to fire home-made Qassam shells at the Israeli town of Sderot, however, no injuries have been reported.
On Friday morning, four resistance fighters of the Al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, were killed in an Israeli air strike at dawn. At least two missiles were shot at their vehicles in the Al-Sheja'iyah neighborhood in Gaza.
A further two residents, including a woman, were killed by the Israel army in Beit Hanoun. The woman was killed in a peaceful demonstration organized by the women of Beit Hanoun to protest against the ongoing Israeli military offensive. Troops opened fire randomly toward the demonstrators, without facing any life-threatening circumstances.
Army surrounded and opened fire at the hospital in the city and demanded the doctors to give them a list of all the wounded being treated in the hospital. The hospital suffers a serious shortage of some medical supplies and blood.
Dr. Jameel Suleiman of Beit Hanoun hospital.
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“They asked us to give them a list of the names and identity numbers of all the employees and doctors in the hospital and all the patients as well. We tried twice to move some patients out of the hospital for treatment, however the army refused to allow us despite the fact that there was a coordination with the District Coordination Office. So, we had to operate on the patients in Beit Hanoun hospital despite the lack of equipment and blood in addition to the fact that the medical teams have been working for almost 48 hours nonstop.”
Many of the dead and wounded were civilians, as the army attacked mostly residential areas. We interviewed Ahmad Hamdan from Beit Hanoun about the situation on Wednesday.
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“As I am talking you, I can hear the sound of the bullets from different places, in addition, the town is completely surrounded until this moment, six have been killed. I have seen at least one of those killed and he was an unarmed civilian who was shot while standing in front of his house. The ambulance arrived 15 minutes after he was shot, but found him dead.”
Rafah Crossing Point opens for two days, 2000 pass through
Some 2000 people crammed through Rafah Crossing Point when the Israeli military allowed the checkpoint to open for two days. Many had been stranded for weeks on either side of the border.
Aid worker kidnapped, released unharmed
Also this week in Gaza, a Spanish aid worker named Roberto Vila Sexto was kidnapped in Deir Al Balah, in the central Gaza Strip, by a previously unknown Palestinian armed group. He was released shortly after, unharmed. Vila Sexto had been working with Cooperation for Peace, which works closely with the International Red Cross.
Attacks on the West Bank
80 abducted in Israeli invasions
The Israeli military invaded West Bank cities and towns 45 times this week, abducting 80 residents including four children.
On Friday at dawn, the Israeli army, reinforced by at least fifteen armored vehicles and military bulldozers invaded the West Bank city of Bethlehem and broke into several homes. Troops clashed with resistance fighters in a neighbourhood of the city, firing rounds of live ammunition at the residents who gathered, while the soldiers surrounded one of the buildings of the neighborhood. 17-year-old Abdul Kareem Obaiyat was killed and several others were wounded, including a 70-year-old woman and a 13-year-old boy. The woman is still in critical situation and the boy was declared dead on arrival at Beit Jala hospital.
Troops later surrounded the Beit Jala hospital in attempt to arrest some of the wounded. As we broadcast this news, troops have just invaded the hospital. Check our website, www.imemc.org, for the latest update on this breaking news.
In a separate event, a fifteen year old child was killed and his 28 year old brother was injured today, when an Israeli army under cover unit invaded the West Bank refugee camp of Balata, outside Nablus, and occupied several homes, turning them into sniper posts.
Israeli forces also invaded the West Bank city of Ramallah and kidnapped the Palestinian Minister of Housing and Labor, Abed Al Rahman Zeidan, from his home in the city.
The Israeli army have previously kidnapped six Palestinian ministers; five of whom were recently released, including the deputy Prime Minister, Nasser Al Din Al Shaer, who was released at the end of September. Israel has captured at least 40 Palestinian legislators, including Dr. Aziz Dweik, speaker of the Parliament.
Olive harvest continues, despite constant settler attacks
In the second week of the olive harvest, Israeli settlers continued to assault Palestinian farmers working in their orchards. Unrelenting, farmers continued the harvest. In the orchards near Hebron, 90 volunteers, including 20 internationals, accompanied the farmers to their fields, to deter settler attacks from the nearby Asfer settlement. The effort enabled many to farm with a sense of increased safety; however some farmers were still prohibited from reaching their lands by the settlers.
In another incident, Israeli settlers from the Allon Moreh settlement near Nablus, attacked farmers in the nearby village of Azmut, injuring six farmers. Israeli soldiers present at the scene did not intervene.
Hamas Heads to Cairo for Negotiations
Cairo has received a delegation from the Hamas movement, headed by Imad Al-Alami to discuss the release of the Israeli soldier and the formation of a national unity government.
Possible prisoner swap negotiated
Media sources in Cairo reported progress on the potential prisoner exchange between Hamas and Israel under Egyptian meditation. Papers reported that Hamas agreed to release the Israeli soldier in exchange for the release of Palestinian women and children, as well as prisoners who have spent over 20 years in Israeli jails.
National unity as leaders of factions agree to ceasefire
And following months of negotiations, Hamas approved the formation of a national unity government of technocrats that would also include other factions.
Palestinian Minister of information Dr. Yousef Rizqa accused Israel of foiling attempts to form a national unity government.
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“Historically, there is a strange phenomenon that is worth thinking about and studying regarding the Israeli way of thinking. Every time, Palestinian are near to solving their internal conflicts, whether regarding the formation of a national unity government or the national agreement document written by the Palestinian prisoners, or when President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh come together, Israel escalates the military attacks and causes all these efforts to collapse. Israel is not interested to see the Palestinians united on any level.”
Meanwhile, head of the National Initiative, legislator Dr. Mustafa Al-Barghouthi, met with Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh in Gaza, to strategize on overcoming the rifts between Hamas and Fatah. Leaders of Fatah, Hamas and other Palestinian factions later held a meeting in Gaza, during which they agreed to end all aggressive displays of weapons and relieving the tension between the two factions.
Clashes between supporters of the two factions in the last few weeks have left 20 dead.
Update on the Financial Crisis
A financial report has been issued by the International Monetary Fund, highlighting the economic effects of the sanctions imposed on the Palestinian government for the better part of a year. The Israeli government is currently holding at least $600 million in tax revenues that rightfully belong to the Palestinian government.
On Thursday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with American envoys David Welch and Elliot Abrams.
During the meeting, which was held in Abbas' office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, they discussed the ongoing Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip, that has so far claimed the lives of 34 Palestinians and injured over a hundred. In addition, Abbas demanded that the American diplomats must pressure the Israeli government to release hundreds of millions of US Dollars of Palestinian tax revenues it is withholding, which if paid, will cover most of the overdue salaries of unpaid governmental employees.
Palestinian Minister of Finance and Planning, Dr. Sameer Abu Aisha, promised to pay a portion of the salaries of those civil servants whose salary is less than $300. The payment will be covered by the “temporary payment mechanism” set up by the European Union last June. Palestine’s 165,000 civil servants have been unpaid since March, as the US, EU, and Israel have collaborated to cut off all money to governmental bodies in the West Bank and Gaza.
Meanwhile, the general strike among the workers enters its third month, and the teachers’ union has announced that some teachers will begin teaching voluntarily, beginning Saturday, in order to continue the education of their students, who have already lost two months of their school year because of the strike.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Health Minister Bassem Na'eem warned that the Palestinian health sector in the Gaza Strip is on the verge of collapse if the sanctions continue.
And that’s just some of the news this week in Palestine. For constant updates, check out our website, www.imemc.org. As always, thanks for joining us. From Occupied Bethlehem, this is Michael Beit-kent, Polly Bangoriad and Ghassan Bannoura.